My parents sent me an “email forward” the other week. It contained the kind of parable you might hear in church. I recognized that types of stories to be overly simplistic and full of unanswered questions, yet church-going folk never asked them (or even consider them). To me, it seemed like everyone was ignoring the elephant in the room, and it was considered impolite to point it out. Anyway, here’s the little story:
The Barber and the barb
A man went to a barbershop to have
His hair cut and his beard trimmed.
As the barber began to work,
They began to have a good conversation.
They talked about so many things
And various subjects.
When they eventually touched on
The subject of God, the barber said:
“I don’t believe that God exists.”
“Why do you say that?”
Asked the customer.
“Well, you just have to go out in
The street to realize that God
Doesn’t exist. Tell me, if God exists,
Would there be so many sick people?
Would there be abandoned children?
If God existed, there would be neither
Suffering nor pain.
I can’t imagine loving a God who
Would allow all of these things.”
The customer thought for a moment,
But didn’t respond because he didn’t
Want to start an argument.
The barber finished his job and the
customer left the shop.
Just after he left the barbershop,
He saw a man in the street with long,
Stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard.
He looked dirty and un-kept.
The customer turned back and entered
The barber shop again and he said
To the barber:
“You know what? Barbers do not exist.”
“How can you say that?”
Asked the surprised barber.
“I am here, and I am a barber.
And I just worked on you!”
“No!” the customer exclaimed.
“Barbers don’t exist because
If they did, there would be no
People with dirty long hair
And untrimmed beards,
Like that man outside.”
“Ah, but barbers DO exist!
What happens is, people
Do not come to me.”
Affirmed the customer.
“That’s the point!
God, too, DOES exist!
What happens, is, people
Don’t go to Him
And do not look for Him.
That’s why there’s so much pain
And suffering in the world.”
IF YOU KNOW GOD EXISTS,
Send this to other people—
If you think God doesn’t exist,
Then just delete it!
Now, the thrust of the story is to get Christians to think to themselves, “Yes! This answers the questions of why there is sickness, suffering, and abandoned children. People need to come to God. God is great and He wants to help!” Does that strike anyone else as simplistic? Further, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard Christians attempt to answer the problem of evil as “all you have to do is ask God”. My thoughts about this story are this:
Are there Christians who have prayed and are still sick?
Obviously, there are Christians who have prayed and are still sick. I’ve known strong Christians – Christians involved in the preaching Christianity and helping inner city kids – who have died young. One guy I knew was very Christian and very involved in the church, but he went through several years of fighting cancer before dying in his mid twenties, leaving a widow behind. There are plenty of similar stories. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household, I don’t think there were any cases of miraculous healing. Yes, I saw a lot of prayers, but even in the cases when the outcome was positive, it didn’t appear miraculous. I’d estimate that the ratio of positive versus negative outcomes was no different than what you’d see in any community of non-Christians. In other words, praying to the Christian God had no effect. (And, yes, studies support the conclusion that prayer has no effect.)
If God is capable and willing to heal the sick, should Christians cancel their medical insurance?
If God is capable and willing to heal people, then the money Christians spend for medical insurance is wasted on human doctors who are less capable than the God to heal sickness. Even worse, involvement with the medical establishment could be construed as a lack of faith in God’s healing powers. Now, I’m quite sure that Christians could quickly come up with an excuse to buy medical insurance (e.g. God provides people with a way, and that way is doctors and hospitals). Okay, but what about diseases that the current medical establishment can’t cure? I see no evidence of healing in those cases, either. Additionally, when we look at cases where people lacked good medical care (e.g. Third world countries, the West until recent history), we see significantly elevated death rates — women dying in childbirth, children dying of childhood disease, cholera and smallpox killing millions. So, if we assume the medical establishment is “God’s gift to help cure us”, then why doesn’t God step in to fill that gap miraculously when “God hasn’t yet given us” the medical knowledge for a cure?
Christians love to talk about God’s healing, but have learned through experience that doctors, hospitals, and medical research are indispensable. In other words, their personal and cultural experience is that God doesn’t heal — or at the very least, is less dependable than the medical establishment. Yet, the story is supposed to lead us to the unrealistic view that God heals sickness like a barber cuts hair.
I can’t help but wonder how Christians can hear a story like this and not act with some degree of irritation over the simplistic notions inherent in the story. Personally, I can’t help but think, “Do you think through your theology?” Of course, I’m speaking logically here. When it comes to asking these sorts of questions, I think the problem is that Christianity plays a role in their lives that has little to do with explaining things in any real way, and much more to do with the fact that people want to believe. It’s a little bit like trying to discuss the evidence for an afterlife with someone who wants to believe that they’re going to go to heaven, reunite with their family and friends, and live forever in bliss – the whole conversation is too charged with emotions and hope to actually be the least bit productive in any objective sense. They’re too strongly attached to the idea of a happy afterlife to ask any questions that could undermine those cherished beliefs. In the end, even the obviously simplistic and false ideas inherent in “The Barber and the barb” go unquestioned.